Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018, 17:46 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Sweden

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1999
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Sweden , 1 January 1999, available at: [accessed 21 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 1998, Sweden hosted nearly 16,712 asylum seekers and refugees in need of protection. These included 7,870 asylum seekers with pending claims in the first instance, 1,099 granted asylum, 987 persons granted permanent permission to stay, 4,980 persons granted humanitarian status, 649 persons with temporary protection, and 1,127 resettled refugees.

During 1998, 12,844 asylum seekers submitted applications in Sweden, representing an increase of 33 percent over the prior year, during which 9,662 persons applied for asylum. The largest groups of asylum seekers during the year were from Iraq (3,843), the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (3,446), Bosnia-Hercegovina (1,331), and Iran (613). Some 291 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in Sweden in 1998, up two fold from 143 in 1997.

Sweden issued 14,972 asylum decisions in 1998. Of these, 11,659 were first-instance decisions, granting 60 percent of all applicants some form of protection. Some 6,504 cases were rejected in the first instance. The authorities closed 623 cases for non-appearance.

In 1998, 7,074 persons received protection on various grounds. Sweden granted Convention refugee status to 1,099 asylum seekers (the figure includes appeals decisions). Convention status recognition rates have increased dramatically since Sweden expanded the definition of refugee to include nonstate agents of persecution in 1997.

Sweden granted 4,980 persons permission to stay on humanitarian grounds. An additional 987 persons received permanent residence permits, based on three new grounds enacted in the 1997 asylum amendments. Of these, 866 persons were issued permanent residence permits because of a risk of death penalty or of torture, 119 because of conflict or natural disaster and 2 due to risk of persecution on grounds of gender or homosexuality.

The Swedish authorities issued temporary protection to 649 persons in 1998. The vast majority of the recipients were from Somalia (557). In most cases (552), Sweden extended temporary protection because it was unable to deport rejected applicants.

The Alien Appeals Board issued 3,313 decisions during 1998. Of these, Sweden granted permission to stay on various grounds in 1,305 cases. Some 1,832 cases were rejected and 105 cases were withdrawn or administratively closed in the second instance. At year's end, 4,126 cases remained pending at the Alien Appeals Board.

Sweden approved 1,127 persons for admission under its annual refugee "quota." This figure includes 766 persons from Iran, 266 persons from Iraq, and 34 persons from Bosnia.

Asylum Procedure

All asylum applications are submitted directly to the Swedish Immigration Board (SIV), which has responsibility for interviewing applicants, and making first-instance asylum decisions. SIV bases decisions on the Aliens Act and precedent established by the Alien Appeals Board. Rejected applicants may appeal decisions within three weeks of notification.

The Alien Appeals Board rules on SIV decisions, and can refer cases to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The Swedish Immigration Board can refer cases directly to the government for guidance when the government's decision will affect a large group of asylum seekers.

In September, SIV submitted 4 asylum applications of Kosovo Albanians to the government for guidance, as the decisions could affect up to 2,000 cases (see further discussion on Kosovo Albanian asylum seekers below). By year's end, the government had yet to issue decisions on the cases, pending developments in the conflict in Kosovo.

The Alien Appeals Board issues an expulsion order along with any negative decision. If the expulsion order remains unfulfilled for a period of four years after issuance, it expires, and the asylum seeker may again apply for a residence permit, provided the failure to implement an expulsion order was not the fault of the asylum seeker. Rejected asylum seekers may seek financial assistance from the SIV for voluntary repatriation, although few apply for assistance. Between May 1, 1997 (the start date of the program) and April 30, 1998, Sweden provided repatriation assistance in only 112 cases.

During 1998, Sweden expelled some 3,800 rejected asylum seekers. At year's end, SIV assumed responsibility for expelling denied asylum seekers, though in certain cases the police may become involved. This is part of a larger effort to consolidate the entire asylum procedure within the Swedish Immigration Board.

Since a 1994 law change, asylum seekers have had the right to live with relatives or friends while awaiting an asylum decision. Roughly half of all asylum seekers reside in government-funded housing centers while their applications are processed. The government grants monthly allowances for applicants without means. Asylum seekers whose applications are expected to take longer than four months to process may receive work permits.

Asylum Amendments

On January 1, 1997, several changes in Swedish asylum law took effect. The amendments to the asylum law included an expansion of the refugee definition to encompass nonstate agents of persecution and new categories of people in need of protection.

The new law extended protection to persons who risk persecution because of gender or homosexuality. In May 1998, Sweden granted its first residence permit to an individual who risks persecution because of his homosexuality. Although granted permission to stay, the asylum seeker was denied status because Sweden does not recognize homosexuals as constituting a "particular social group" as stipulated in the UN Refugee Convention definition.

A new Board of Integration began operation in June 1998. The government agency sponsors programs and activities designed to assist immigrants and refugees to integrate into Sweden. The board offers services such as language training, job placement, and housing assistance. The SIV had previously been responsible for this type of integration programming.

Sweden passed legislation making it easier for foreign nationals, and in particular refugees, to gain Swedish citizenship. The law, which came into force on January 1, 1999, waives a requirement of written proof of identity for foreign nationals who have resided legally in Sweden for at least eight years.

This follows changes in naturalization policy that allowed Iranians to assume Swedish citizenship without proof of renouncing their Iranian citizenship. A parliamentary committee will examine issues such as dual citizenship and citizenship for stateless children in 1999.

Barriers to Asylum

Sweden places asylum seekers arriving from "safe third countries" into accelerated procedures. Sweden considers Jordan, Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia as safe third countries.

Sweden deems asylum applications from individuals originating from countries that historically have had low approval rates as "manifestly unfounded." Cases considered manifestly unfounded are also placed into accelerated procedures. Negative decisions on safe thirdcountry and manifestly unfounded cases may be appealed, although an appeal does not necessarily suspend a deportation order.

During 1998, Sweden rejected 486 asylum applications as manifestly unfounded and 2,029 additional applications on safe third country grounds. These rejections constituted about 39 percent of all first-instance rejections during 1998.

In October, the government began a pilot project that allowed NGOs to monitor the asylum process at Stockholm's Arlanda Airport. NGOs are to focus particularly on cases where an applicant risks return to a third country.

On October 1, 1997, Sweden began implementing the Dublin Convention, an EU agreement that establishes a mechanism for determining the member state responsible for adjudicating an asylum request. Generally, Dublin holds that the EU country that permits an asylum seeker entry, or the first EU country of arrival in the event of illegal entry, is responsible for examining the asylum request. Sweden's parliament ratified the Schengen Convention on April 16, 1998 and will become a full member in 2000.

Sweden transferred 1,488 asylum seekers to other Dublin signatories in 1998, the vast majority, 1,321, to Germany. Sweden admitted 99 asylum seekers from other Dublin signatories during the year, most from Denmark and the United Kingdom.

Sweden imposed visa requirements on Colombian nationals in September 1998. During the year, 303 Colombians sought asylum in Sweden, more than double the number of Colombian asylum seekers who arrived in 1997. Following Sweden's example, Norway and Finland also imposed visa requirements on Colombians.

The Swedish government allocated $325,000 of its 1999 refugee resettlement funds to assist a group of Colombians to take refuge in neighboring Latin American countries such as Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Costa Rica. Living costs of the displaced Colombians will be covered for one year, after which Swedish authorities hope the Colombians will be able to repatriate.

Refugee advocates view visa requirements for Colombians and refugee assistance to Latin American countries as a move to prevent Colombians from seeking asylum in Sweden. These measures reflect broader European efforts that attempt to contain refugees in their regions of origin.


At the end of 1998, some 50,000 Bosnians remained in Sweden under various statuses. At year's end, 1,331 Bosnians were awaiting a first instance decision on their asylum applications, while 639 Bosnians had cases pending at the Appeals Board. Sweden accepted 34 Bosnians for resettlement under its refugee "quota" during the year.

The majority of the Bosnians applying for asylum in 1998 had been living in Germany and fled to Sweden to avoid forced repatriation. Sweden and Germany have differing assessments of the protection needs of Bosnian Muslims originating from Republika Srpska. While Germany has determined that internal flight options exist for this group, Sweden generally grants such applicants refugees status. Despite these differences in policy, Sweden considers Germany a safe third country and will invoke the Dublin Convention when applicable.

During 1998, Sweden assisted 454 Bosnians to voluntarily repatriate. Some 1,518 Bosnians have repatriated since 1996. Bosnians denied asylum are granted six months to prepare for voluntary return.


The outbreak of fighting in Kosovo sent a new wave of asylum seekers from former Yugoslavia to Sweden. During 1998, 3,446 Yugoslav citizens applied for asylum. The Swedish authorities estimated that between 80 and 85 percent of these were Kosovar Albanians. Sweden suspended review of the asylum applications of Kosovar Albanians in September, awaiting governmental direction on how to proceed with adjudications for this group. By year's end, 2,130 Yugoslav cases remained pending at the Swedish Immigration Board.

Readmission Agreements

After years of negotiations, Sweden signed a readmission agreement with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on January 16, 1998, but it had yet to take effect by year's end. Readmission agreements concluded with Bulgaria and Poland in 1998 also had not come into force at the end of 1998.

In September, Sweden implemented a bilateral agreement with Germany to simplify the procedure for returning asylum seekers in accordance with the Dublin Convention; it took precedence over an earlier agreement signed in 1954. Sweden concluded a similar readmission agreement with Denmark in 1997.

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